Theorizing Around the Human: Medieval Performance Practice and Practice-Based Research

Lofton L. Durham, Western Michigan University,;
Jacqueline Jenkins, University of Calgary,

In the thousand-year period known as the Middle Ages, performance was the dominant mode of cultural communication, serving as a means through which communities articulated their beliefs, celebrated their histories, promoted their power, and often escaped their realities. In the context of medieval performance history, this working session will consider the wide range of non-human factors/elements implicit in medieval theatre practices, as well as the special problems presented by theorizing performance based on documents alone. Thus, we seek contributions of short scholarly papers that actively work to de-center the human as actor, author, or agent of production. Further, we invite papers that attempt to theorize knowledge about performance through practice-based research. We envision this work occurring in two parts: a roundtable, where papers are shared and discussed; and a workshop, where theories about performance may be tested in a laboratory setting.

Some possible paper topics:
• histories of non-humans in performance, such as puppetry, automata, etc.
• non-representational acting practices and medieval performance, for instance mumming, or pageantry
• non-human roles in medieval drama, for instance supernatural, animal, or material ‘characters’
• material practice and medieval performance histories
• sound, speech and/or language in medieval performance
• space and/or spatial studies of medieval performance
• props and staging, for instance in the context of reconstructive critical work
• engagement with fragmentary or ambiguous evidence and methods for revealing traces of performance practice
• a focus on manuscripts, specifically in the form of non-dramatic literature and medieval performance practices

This is an on-going Working Group focused on Medieval Performance. In 2013, we introduced a two-part session: the session included a performance workshop focused on a set of short texts and a separate roundtable for discussion of the individual papers and the results of the workshop. This double-session format, though highly unusual for the ASTR conference, proved to be of crucial use to the scholars involved, allowing multidimensional engagement with the critical and historiographical issues at the heart of the newest work in medieval performance studies. We are again deploying a double session at the 2014 conference: participants will meet first for a practical performance workshop (two-hour session) of one or more short medieval texts (as proposed by individual group members), allowing the workshop to operate as an experimental laboratory that may extend and enrich the roundtable discussion framed by the papers; in addition to, and sometime following the workshop, the participants will meet for a two-hour roundtable session to discuss the group’s papers.

TO SUBMIT: Please send an abstract of 300 words describing both your proposed paper and your proposed use of the performance workshop, if appropriate. Include as many specifics as you can—possible texts, exercises, goals, methods, etc. Please ensure that your proposal describes the role Practice-based Research could play in the development of your argument. Send the abstract by June 1 to both co-convenors: and All those who submit an abstract will be notified by June 15. Completed papers (of 8 to 10 double-spaced pages) will be due by September 15 for circulation and discussion.


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